Los Angeles to Austin: Austin to Los Angeles

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I moved to Los Angeles almost a decade ago, fresh out of my 20s and still basically a newlywed. I was coming from Chicago, where I’d met my husband, Shawn. He had lived his entire life in Chicago, specifically in the south suburbs. Meeting Shawn and his tight-knit group of friends was like being thrust into the pages of an Andrew Greeley novel. Irish, middle-class, witty, fatalistic … it was something I found hard to relate to at first, since my own experiences were so different. But Shawn was only informed by his past; he was also his future. So when I got an offer out here for a job, he put our persnickety feline, two computers and an aluminum softball bat “just in case we run into trouble,” into his car and we set off.

It was the third time I’d up-ended my life. The first was when I left home at 18 to go to college in “the big city,” which for me, was Dayton, Ohio. The second time, I moved to Chicago after the alt-weekly newspaper I worked for in Dayton went down in flames. Each time, I knew what I was running toward had to be better than what I was leaving. Chicago was the harder move, because I was leaving my best friends and hoping to build on the career I had started in Dayton as a music writer.

So when I found myself working as a copywriter for an industrial parts supply company and no longer writing about music six months after moving to Chicago, I was getting a little worried that I might soon find myself signing up for Curves and taking a creative crystal healing class. It wasn’t until Shawn came along that I started to rediscover what music meant to me, mostly because our romance was long enough ago that couples still made “mix CDs” for each other. I’ll never forget some of the songs he turned me onto, or talking to him on the phone as he traveled to a gig in Iowa. After a couple more years writing about industrial felt and filters, I was more than ready to leave. The depth of what I was doing then — and what my friend did by leaving Austin — finally hit me on my way back to Los Angeles, when my friend and I stopped for the night in Marfa.

Don’t let what you read about Marfa on the Internet convince you that it’s some idyllic small town in West Texas. Marfa is a shithole, overhyped by what I can only assume is a devious conspiracy to present it as a hip artists’ retreat a la Cape Cod. Here’s the reality of Marfa: on a Saturday night at 8 pm, the only place to get a meal is Dairy Queen, where there is one lone employee to take your order, cook it, and serve it, while his wife and child sit at a table watching Netflix on a smartphone; and a teenage couple in the booth by the window tries to figure out how many licks it takes to get to the proverbial center of the Tootsie roll pop. You’ll order chicken fingers in desperation, and they’ll suck. You’ll get unnecessarily bitchy with your traveling companion before the both of you collapse in your $180-a-night hotel room, but not before you realize the “fireplace” touted in the room description is actually outside your room, and the shower just sprays into an open bathroom, right alongside the toilet.

Yeah.

We do strange things in this life.

I gotta go, I gotta go, I gotta go right now
But I’ll be back, I don’t know why, when, where or how
I pulled the plug, under the rug, and there goes all my power

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Sitting at the Blue Dahlia in Austin, watching the sun set and having dinner with someone I’d known for 15 years, and someone whom I’d just met three days prior, but felt an immediate kinship with, I was reminded that the ties that bind people together are varied and diverse. Nothing bonds us so tightly as when we find those with whom we can share a sense of our “otherness,” of not quite fitting in as the world rushes by. That was why Austin has always been regarded as a bastion of safety for the weirdos, the off-kilter, the artists, the ones who need a safe place to rebuild after the world has taken a wolf-sized bite out of their psyche. What you see these days in Austin is nothing short of a battle for the city’s soul. Will the myriad cranes rip out the roots of the city, or will they strengthen it? With 200+ people moving to the city each day, it’s going too fast to really know what will happen and is far too early to know whether the good will outweigh the bad as progress marches on.

One day while I was in Austin, I went to Lake Travis.

As we turned off the main road onto the road leading down to the lake, a wake of vultures was ravenously tearing into some roadkill. I’d never seen anything like it, and I made my friend pull over so I could snap pictures of it.

“You’re on your own if they start coming after you,” he drawled, pulling his hat low and revving the engine to reinforce his words.

Realizing he might have a point, I got back in the car and opted instead for the zoom lens on my camera, and we meandered down the road. Each time we found an entrance to get closer to the lake, Texas wanted at least $10 from us. We finally found a public access area, parked the car and hiked toward the lake, which, at this point, is more like a pond because the water level is so low. It was a beautiful day, and we set to work on some promo shots for his next record … and cue the Texas park ranger!!! — who sat in his SUV and stared at us, engine idling, creating a very awkward situation when there was no need to do so.

“Leave,” he seemed to be telling us. “You’re not wanted here.”

I got a job and then I got another one
I quit my job and then I quit the other one
Don’t want no job, don’t wanna get another one
Don’t want no job, don’t wanna get another one

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One of the most frustrating things I encountered as a music writer was listening to a song and having all these magical descriptions come to mind, only to then sit in front of the computer and have everything I wrote come out pedantic and pedestrian, nothing adequately describing the feelings of euphoria that the lyrics and music engendered in my head mere minutes earlier. Trying to chase that feeling and convey it in words is enough to drive you crazy. I was often left with a mere shell, a husk, a wisp of the psychic residue that touched me when I first listened to whatever it was. And then deciding to take on a full project with someone whose music makes my heart sing and whose voice would sound awesome singing the phonebook? Ha ha ha ha. Just let me go stab myself in the eyeballs.

Now, on top of that, do it when you’re pushing 40, own your own business, are actively pursuing other creative projects, and live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Then break your wrist the second day you get home from the road trip.

It’s good that another one of my friends is a preparedness devotee.

Since getting home six weeks ago, we are learning to live with our new reality. Austin is in our rearview, and Los Angeles has opened her arms to us once again, neither promising us anything nor denying us. It’s too soon to say what will happen, but I knew that when I turned the key in the ignition and headed east on I-10 on Jan. 18. I knew after two weeks in Austin that LA was always going to be my home, that my friend’s music deserves a better chance, and that there was no other place on earth that makes me feel as centered. The sun shines a lot here. The tide always comes in.

I see the moon, I feel the wind
I see the stars shining in the Western sky

(Part 2 of 2)

Sara Farr

Sara Farr

Sara Farr is currently an adjunct marketing instructor at the School of Advertising Art. Previously, she worked as a graphic designer at Variety for six years, and spent 10 years before that as a music writer for various Midwestern and Los Angeles-based newspapers and magazines. Her work appears in “The Little Black Book, Music: Over a Century of the Greatest Artists, Albums, Songs, Performances and Events That Rocked the Music World.”

One Response to Los Angeles to Austin: Austin to Los Angeles
  1. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Beautiful.

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